What a night.
I’ll have a full post about this later today, but the success of the marriage equality ballot measures in Maryland, Washington, and Maine and the rejection of the anti-gay measure in Minnesota means that historians may look upon this election as a historical milestone as significant as the election of the first African-American to the presidency 4 years ago. On top of that, you have Obama’s reelection, the significant move of the Senate to the left, a host of interesting ballot measures, and the rejection of white supremacy by the American populace. All very interesting.
Let’s get to some specifics and good links. First, in case you haven’t read enough summaries of why all this matters, Michael Cohen has a real nice piece up at the Guardian.
Amanda Marcotte writes that the nation rejected the Republican War on Women. And indeed she’s right. I’ll only add that it was much more than that. The Republicans declared war not only on women but also on people of color as well as the queer community. Voters rejected that agenda. Women not only elected Obama but they elected each other to lead the rejuvenated Democratic Party. Tammy Baldwin. Elizabeth Warren. Mazie Hirono. Heidi Heitkamp. Tammy Duckworth. These are exciting politicians to go along with Amy Klouchbar, Debbie Stabenow and other impressive women taking leadership roles in the progressive wing of the party.
But again, it’s not just women rallying to defend themselves. Dave Zirin reminds us that Sergio Romo’s awesome World Series parade shirt pretty much sums up much of the Latino community’s response to the Republican War on Brown People. Republicans attack on voting rights seems to have motivated the African-American community even more than they already were. Obama absolutely crushed Romney among Asians. And the young, also victims of Republican voting rights restrictions and barriers on college campuses, again supported the president. I was very pleased that Obama made a point in his speech last night that it was wrong that people have to wait so long to vote and that we needed to do something about that. Of course, voting is generally state-controlled, but national leadership for voting standards could really help. Finally, for the first time in history, the Democratic Party’s House delegation is not majority white male. It’s about time.
The Senate also moved significantly to the left. Republicans moved 2 seats to the right. Crazy Ted Cruz replaced Kay Bailey Hutchison and Deb Fischer won Ben Nelson’s seat. Every other seat that changed hands moved left. Some of these are obvious–Elizabeth Warren beating Scott Brown for instance. But Tammy Baldwin is well to the left of Herb Kohl. Tim Kaine is kind of lame but he’s better than Jim Webb. Joe Donnelly is definitely not my kind of Democrat but he’s to the left of Dick Lugar. Heidi Heitkamp is to the left of Kent Conrad. Martin Heinrich will be to the left of Jeff Bingaman. Chris Murphy is to the left of Joe Lieberman. Mazie Hirono keeps Akaka’s seat very liberal. Angus King is to the left of Olympia Snowe. Etc. DW-Nominate scores for the 112th Congress shows Conrad as 29th most liberal senator, Bingaman 34th, Kohl 37th, Lieberman 46th, Webb 50th. Their replacements will probably be better down the line.
And let’s not forget the states. California finally showed a little bit of sanity, passing a tax hike to save the state’s schools. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. The passage of gay marriage. The rejection of a lot of awful millionaire-funded craziness on ballot measures across the country. Not everything was perfect. Particularly sad was Michigan rejecting placing collective bargaining guarantees in the state constitution. But still, overall this was a positive night at the state level.
Importantly for progressives needing to learn some lessons about how change takes place in this country, many of these ballot measures show that grassroots organizing works. The gay rights movement and marijuana legalization are social movements creating unstoppable forces for change on the grassroots. They are organizing on the ground and then demanding and successfully creating social change. This is how you do it.
What happens next? The Republican knife fight for control of the party is going to be hilarious to watch. Reading Douthat crying big fat tears is a good start. Pass the popcorn! Republicans’ absurd gerrymanders (allow me to use this occasion to again remind progressives that local and state elections are just as important as the presidency and control over state legislatures is really really really important), especially in Pennsylvania where a majority of the state voted for Democratic House candidates and the congressional delegation is 13-5 Republican, means that they kept the House. So Republicans could continue their policy of extreme hostility. I do probably think this will happen. Congressional Republicans are going to be so furious that Obama is still president that I have trouble seeing much compromise at all from their backbenchers. On the other hand, that is a good ticket to irrelevancy. They’ve tried that for 4 years and it led to another electoral defeat.
The issue about to dominate the country is the upcoming “fiscal cliff.” Yglesias rightfully notes that we all need to chill out and come up with a different name for this. The cliff metaphor is another example of Republicans dominating the nation’s political language. There’s no disaster if nothing happens by December 31 because we can always pass something on January 1. Two additional points about this. I think every progressive is waiting to see what Obama is going to do for his much desired Grand Bargain. How much will he deal away on social programs and for what? At least right now, Obama and Reid seem to be ready to take a more aggressive stance than 2009. Let’s hope so. Second, we are going to find out real fast what the Republican strategy is. But they don’t have a lot of cards to play here. Will the few grownups take over here and agree to some tax hikes?
Finally, here’s a list of 5 things I think we can and should expect Obama and Congress to do in the next 2 years. This excludes things that I want to happen but won’t (Employee Free Choice Act, comprehensive climate change legislation) nor basic executive power stuff that Obama needs to be more aggressive on (nominating judges to fill vacant positions on the federal courts, land protection).
1. Filibuster reform. This obviously should not come from the president. But this is the most important thing the Senate can do. Angus King was elected on a platform of filibuster reform. We know that some of the younger senators like Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall wholly support this. Some of the old guard centrist Democrats like Lieberman who used the filibuster to increase their power are gone. Of course Joe Manchin and Max Baucus are still around. But I think some kind of filibuster reform is absolutely necessary for a functioning government. Lower it to 55 votes. Even 57 would be an improvement. Force filibustering senators to actually talk on the Senate floor. Eliminating individual holds on nominees is also necessary. Harry Reid needs to do this on the first day of the Senate, when the session’s rules are set.
2. Immigration reform. This is good politics and morally correct. Obama needs to make his top legislative priority passing comprehensive immigration reform. Force Republicans to either double down on their white supremacy or cave to survive. Latinos elected Obama and will elect Democrats in the future behind this and other legislation that will promote immigrant rights. Minorities made up 45% of the people who voted for President Obama. He needs to remember this.
3. Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Again, let’s force Republicans to either embrace homophobia or cave. The politics are more or less the same here as immigration reform (albeit a bit more risky in the short term). The overwhelming success of gay marriage last night means that the country is speeding toward this inevitability anyway. No Democrat can win the nomination in 2016 without embracing full equality. Let’s make it national policy and at least force a vote on it.
4. Pass legislation to limit the impact of Citizens United. One of the big stories from last night is that Citizens United seems to have made virtually no difference on the presidential or Senate races. It seems that people probably just tune out the political ads over time. I think this has a far greater effect on the state and local levels, where voters simply don’t pay as much attention or have as much knowledge. Plus it’s a horrible thing and turns off voters. I do think there will be some will to make this happen.
5. Tax the rich. This gets back to the Grand Bargain. Obama needs to make the rich pay their fair share. They hate him anyway so there’s very little political downside. Frame this as a battle against the rich and for the middle class.
Realistically, Obama isn’t going to get more than this done.